To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and the flow of the tides, to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh, to watch the flight of shore birds that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents for untold thousands of years, to see the running of the old eels and the young shad to the sea, is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be.
Under the Sea Wind (1941)
Though trained in the sciences as a marine biologist, describing the natural world with grace and depth-of-feeling is what Rachel Carson is best remembered for. Indeed, Carson is credited with changing the world with her writing. Through published articles and books, she brought the wonders of nature within reach of the average reader. She also made it possible to imagine a world where the sciences could (and should) work in tandem with the environment in a way that dignifies the role of all living things.
Carson’s fondness for the natural world and her ability to filter that passion through her literary talent shows us that the sciences and the arts don’t only intersect, they harmonize. And, when they do, both the scientific and artistic message is amplified.
Such was the case when the Norton Center brought the immersive, science-based production Erth’s Prehistoric Aquarium Adventure to the Newlin Stage last April. In this program, skilled actors brought the ancient ocean to life with a brilliant cast of beautifully crafted puppets. These puppeteers, along with a sparse set and dynamic stage lights, created an environment where viewers of all ages could imagine a world they’d never actually see. Even more, while enveloped by the performance, audiences learned about a range of fantastic creatures and how they may have lived when they swam the seas. Part play, part light-show, part paleontology lesson, programs like Erth’s Prehistoric Aquarium Adventure open the door for us to experience our planet’s incredible narrative in a way that is immediate, tangible, and memorable.
Even when the puppets weren’t “swimming” the stage, visitors to the Norton Center were immersed by other fun, educational activities that tied into the show’s theme. Centre Biology Professor Amanda Falk shed light on the differences between prehistoric creatures through a show-and-tell session featuring dinosaur bones. Other hands-on activities were brought in by Centre’s own GEMS club (Girls in Engineering, Math and Science) and event sponsor, SODEXO, created some ocean-themed snacks. To top it off, some lucky audience members got to “meet” a few of the program’s star creatures.
Without a doubt, the mesmerizing blend of art, science, and immersion that accompanied this show encouraged viewers of all ages to contemplate life’s wonders, all while enjoying diverse modes of artistic expression. And, when it comes to this production, the learning hasn’t stopped for our younger patrons! The people behind Erth’s Prehistoric Aquarium Adventure have created a free activity book that blends lessons from the show with fun projects to do at home. From quizzes and coloring pages to do-it-yourself puppet crafts, this workbook is another great example of how the arts and sciences work better together.
And don’t worry – we have an activity to share with older audience members, too! How would you like to help scientists in Sweden study the ocean floor? You can! To pitch in, simply visit the Koster Seafloor Observatory project website, where you’ll find instructions on how to take part.
In a nutshell, volunteers on the project are asked to identify what sea critters they see in a ten-second recording of the deep ocean. It’s designed so anyone can help (even if you’re not a marine biologist)! Simply use the provided field guide, which will tell you what critters you’re likely to encounter. Then, pick the animal(s) you spot and mark the time it/they appear. It’s a simple activity, but it’s this kind of work that helps researchers in a big way!
As for me, I have to say I had a good time looking for animals in the deep (though some, I think, are easier to spot than others!). While it may be a very small contribution, I’m excited to have made an addition.
Molly Baker is a graduate of Berea College, where she studied Art History and Asian Studies. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Art History from the University of Kentucky. Before joining the Norton Center for the Arts, Molly held the position of Gallery Manager at TAMARACK: The Best of West Virginia. Later, she served as Assistant Curator/Gallery Manager at the Doris Ulmann Galleries (Berea College) as a sabbatical replacement. Molly is especially dedicated to the study and promotion of the arts and arts-based experiences using creative methods. Specifically, her goal is to bridge arts presentations with inclusive opportunities to learn about context, creators, and cultural significance, pointing to our combined human experiences in order to encourage critical thinking and understanding.